This week, I decided to add a new feature to all future blog posts: TTS!
On the 13th of this April, I had the opportunity to be able to test my skills for the chance to earn a industry-recognized certification! BACE, an exam created by the University Florida with the help of Biotility, tests candidates for proficiency in common skills and knowledge sets that were identified as vital in the emerging biotech industry. The test itself is actually rather new with a total of 2941 total credentials being awarded. However, the low number is also due to the extensiveness of the exam as it includes both a knowledge an practical section. The inclusion of the practical section is vital to the weight this certification holds as other accrediting agencies usually don't offer a portion in their examinations to measure one's practical performance. After all, a biotechnician isn't good at their job if they only know how a piece of equipment works without actually being able to effectively utilize said equipment. So for today's post, I'll write about my experience taking the exam so any future candidates will have a better idea of what to expect.
The UI and Test Booklet
Approximately one week before the day of the test, candidates will receive 2 enrollment links via the University of Florida's eLearning system (which uses Canvas). The first enrollment link will be to a course that holds the two parts of the exam: the knowledge and practical exam. The practical exam has no contents because it is conducted with a booklet, and the knowledge exam is locked behind an access code that your proctor will provide on the day of the test. I recommend taking some time to familiarize yourself with the layout since most high school students don't use Canvas, the service can be a little buggy, and since it will make logging in on test day a breeze.
The practical exam, as I wrote above, is conducted on paper and includes the question booklet, answer packet, and a rubric for one of the practical stations. The booklet is very similar to any other test booklet with a seal and location to write your personal information. The first part of the booklet will have the math and other practical questions. The second part will have questions pertaining to the practical stations that'll require you to get up. The very end of the booklet has any supplemental material for a couple questions (MSDSs or Biotechnology Articles). All the answers will be recorded in the separate answer packet in a scantron style bubble sheet (including free response math problems that are similar to those seen at the end of the SAT math section).
Now the second enrollment link will be to a course that holds all the practice content. All of the questions are extremely accurate to the questions you'll see on both portions of the exam, and it is a waste to ignore them. Math especially was nearly identical to that seen on the test, so I recommend running through those until you can consistently score >80% within a reasonable timeframe. You are given 2 sets of each subject covered, which is an ample amount of practice.
The Knowledge Exam
It is important to note that this exam covers content that is expected of employees at both research and manufacturing locations. That means that you'd have to know topics ranging from biochemistry and cell systems to quality assurance and manufacturing processes. You can find a comprehensive list of the various subjects here along side the percent breakdown*. Of the topics covered, the most important ones in my opinion are the various roles of industry professionals, the job of quality assurance, and the various technical biotechnology skills (specifically ELISA, immunoassays, and PAGE since they're more often seen in industry than other techniques). The other topics are either less frequent or much more elementary and should already be known by students if they've taken AP Biology (or even Honors Biology).
When taking the knowledge test, you'll notice immediately that it is in the exact same format as the practice except that there are far more questions. This is why it's critical to do the practice since it will acclimate you to the test well.
*I find the percent breakdown to be a little inaccurate, but that could be based on my own experience. There seems to be more on the industry than I first expected and I recommend that you don't ignore them! Also, there were more questions than advertised, so be weary of that.
The Practical Exam
The practical exam has 2 parts: math/theory and the actual practical. The math/theory is all done on paper and is super similar to the practice except in the media it's in. The practical, however, has no practice online and requires a good understanding of lab technique. For my test in particular, there were 7 stations that tested different skills. The proctor, during the test, will call you up to a station and you'll follow the directions seen for that station in your booklet. Most of the stations will not have you actively graded, so use that to your advantage when doing the lab work. This is especially useful when considering the fact that aseptic technique isn't necessarily enforced (however, if you're caught completely disregarding it, you'll likely face some repercussion).
The stations will vary from test to test, but I believe that the skills should remain relatively the same. For me, 3 of the stations were transferring various reagents (of different volumes and types) using different tools. You'll be asked to transfer the reagent to either a conical vial or microtube that you'll label and weigh out to write on your answer sheet. The rest of the stations were for other pieces of equipment including (but of course not limited to for every test) a microscope, a pH meter, and an agarose gel (which was the only skill where I was actively graded by the proctor). The final station is probably the most well known and even has a special counter on the Biotility website; it is to conduct an isolation streak on a petri dish given E coli. Despite the nature of this station, I was not actively graded by proctor for this, but rather the petri dish will be graded later after incubating. It's important to note that I was not given any alcohol, the surface was already considered sterile, and that no parafilm was given to wrap the plate (which all go back to the fact that aseptic technique wasn't a big deal).
I don't think it is particularly necessary to intensively practice these skills unless you haven't done them ever. However, assuming you've never done a lab before, I would recommend getting to know how to effectively use a scale, a micropipette, and a serological pipette (with either a manual or automatic pipette aid). These tools come up the most between all the stations and will give you the best shot at getting the highest score.
The BACE is a rewarding exam for those who wish to work in a lab or in industry. It is likely the most accurate and definite indicator for the ability to work in a lab. Getting the certification is completely worth the effort so long as you take time to practice. Here are some materials to help study for the test. I didn't create any of these, so please give credit to the original creators!